Young scores 32, Hawks beat Celtics 130-122 to close to 2-1


ATLANTA — Trae Young never lost confidence in himself, even after a run of dismal playoff performances.

Finally, he looked like that charismatic point guard who carried the Atlanta Hawks to the Eastern Conference final two years ago.

Young scored 32 points in his best playoff game since 2021 and the Atlanta Hawks gave themselves a glimmer of hope, beating the Boston Celtics 130-122 Friday night to close the gap to 2-1 in the opening-round series.

Young hit a step-back 3-pointer from the corner with 2:21 left and knocked down another huge basket on a floater in the lane with 45 seconds remaining after Jaylen Brown missed a 3-pointer that would’ve tied it for the Celtics.

The seventh-seeded Hawks will try to even the series against the second-seeded Celtics in Game 4 on Sunday night at State Farm Arena.

“I knew I could play like this,” Young said. “I wasn’t worried.”

Maybe not, but much of the A-T-L was sure doubting if he was truly a franchise player.

Young washed out in an opening-round loss to Miami a year ago, averaging just 15.4 points a game while recording more turnovers (31) than assists (30). He wasn’t much better during the first two games in Boston, connecting on 14 of 40 shots.

But, working in perfect sync with fellow guard Dejounte Murray, Young knocked down 12 of 22 attempts, dished out nine assists and grabbed six rebounds, while committing only four turnovers.

“The guards are supposed to be in control of the game,” Young said. “We consider ourselves two pretty good guards.”

They sure played the part in this one. Murray had another big game for the Hawks with 25 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining that helped Atlanta protect its lead. He added six rebounds and five assists.

“They were talking to each other, figuring out what the other was thinking and playing off each other,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said of his starting backcourt. “At one point, I just told myself to be quiet and let them do it.”

The duo was really at its best when it counted most. Young scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and Murray chipped in with 7, accounting for 22 of Atlanta’s 30 points in the period.

They were the first Hawks teammates to each have at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a playoff game since Lenny Wilkens and Bill Bridges in 1966, when the franchise still called St. Louis home.

Jayson Tatum scored 29 points to lead Boston, which was barely challenged in the first two games of the series.

“We knew it wasn’t to be easy,” said Marcus Smart, who added 24 points for the Celtics.

In Boston, the Celtics pushed out to big leads and cruised to a pair of 13-point victories. In Atlanta, the Hawks finally put up a fight.

With Derrick White forced to the bench in the early going with two quick fouls, the Hawks took advantage of a chink in the Boston defense to get things rolling. Atlanta knocked down 30 of 46 shots (65.2%) in the first half.

Smart said that’s where the Celtics essentially lost the game, allowing the Hawks to gain some much-needed confidence.

“You get that extra boost when you’re back home,” he said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of making things tough on them.”

Pumped up by a standing-room-only crowd, the Hawks built a 14-point lead – their biggest of the series – late in the first half.

But the Celtics responded with eight straight points and went to the locker room down 74-67.

It was Atlanta’ first victory over Boston this season. The Hawks dropped all three regular-season meetings.

The Hawks put up their most points in a playoff game since a 137-125 victory over Detroit in an opening-round series in 1986. They also had seven players in double figures, matching their franchise high in the postseason.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.